There are plenty of skincare ingredients used in pigment serums that can help reduce sun spots, age spots and pigmented patches, and they all work on different pathways in the skin. Below, we explain how pigment serums work and share our product recommendations. Before we get started, it helps to first understand how pigmentation occurs.
How Pigmentation Forms
Pigmentation forms when the melanocytes (the pigment-producing cells) in your skin start to over-produce melanin. Overproduction can be triggered by UV exposure that damages the cells, or by an inflammatory response in the skin. They can also be triggered by hormonal changes in the body such as with oral contraceptives or pregnancy.
It begins with an enzyme called “tyrosinase,” which tells the melanocytes to produce melanin.
Melanocytes live in the deep basal layer of your skin, so when they produce melanin, they have to hand it over to your melanosomes, which distribute melanin throughout the rest of the skin.
The skin cells, or “keratin” cells, release a protein called PAR 2 which tells the melanosome to transfer pigment into the keratin cell.
What is a good skincare routine for pigmented skin?
The first step of any good skincare routine is to cleanse and exfoliate. You need to keep your skin clean, clear and ready to absorb nutrients from your active serums. It will also help you remove some of the pigmented cells on the surface of your skin.
If you’re using an exfoliating serum, apply it after you cleanse and wait at least one minute. Then apply your pigment serums.
A pigment serum is recommended more than a cream because the consistency of a cream may limit how deeply the active ingredients can penetrate your skin.
Our hero product for pigmentation is [S2] Whitening & Brightening Pigment Serum. It contains natural actives to inhibit the formation of pigmentation, such as Symwhite, Beta-white, Sepi-white, Niacinamide and Algowhite (these are below). It’s a potent blend of actives in a therapeutic base of organic essential oils, safe for all skin types.
You can also try RejuvAus [S4] Super C Pigment & Hydration Serum which combines 3 forms of Vitamin C with a blend of antioxidants to help brighten your skin tone, reduce uneven pigmentation and reduce other signs of ageing.
Because pigmentation can be triggered by UV exposure, it’s important to wear a good physical sunblock every day.
How can skincare reduce pigmentation?
Traditionally, many pigment serums contained skin bleaching agents or hydroquinone, a controversial lightening agent. Thankfully, a lot of research has since produced safer and more natural ingredients that treat pigmentation at the cellular level, rather than bleaching the surface. They all work on different pathways, so it’s safe to use many of them in combination as well. Here are some of the most popular pigment-inhibiting ingredients.
Symwhite (Phenylethyl Resorcinol)
A natural derivative from pine trees, Symwhite inhibits tyrosinase in your skin. Remember that tyrosinase is the enzyme that sparks melanin production, so less tyrosinase means less melanin. Less melanin means less pigmentation on the surface of your skin.
In clinical studies, 98% of testers reported pigmentation fading within 28 days of regular use.
Beta-white is similar to Symwhite in the sense that it inhibits pigment-production in the melanocytes in your skin, but it works on a different pathway.
MITF (Melanocyte Inducing Transcription Factor) is a protein that develops and controls melanocytes and tyrosinase.
Beta-white is a peptide used in skincare that inhibits MITF. When MITF is inhibited, tyrosinase activity slows down and melanocytes produce less melanin.
According to Beta-white producers, Beta-white can reduce age spots after 14 days of use.
Sepi-white is made in a lab from the same amino acids that are involved in melanin synthesis in your skin. When applied to the skin, it inhibits melanin synthesis in the melanocytes and reduces the amount of pigment existing in skin cells.
Niacinamide, also known as Vitamin B3, is known and loved for its skin-soothing properties, but more recent research has found that it also partially blocks the PAR 2 receptors in your skin cells. Remember, PAR 2 receptors are how your skin cells tell the melanosomes they will receive pigment transfer. By blocking PAR 2 receptors, Niacinamide can help regulate how much melanin, or pigment, is transferred into your skin cells. The excess melanin may still be produced, but it won’t be as visibly uneven on the surface of your skin.
Named the “Holy Grail” of skincare ingredients in 2019 by Allure magazine, Vitamin C has a whole range of benefits for the skin. Notably, it helps to regulate pigment production, brighten your skin tone and reduce uneven dark spots. As an antioxidant, it can also help to reduce oxidatisation.
Algowhite (Amla Fruit Extract)
UV exposure triggers the release of enzymes called MMPs. These enzymes are partially responsible for collagen breakdown and irregular pigmentation in the skin.
Extract from the Amla fruit (also known as the Indian Gooseberry) has been found to inhibit MMPs to prevent uneven pigmentation from forming. It also has some mild anti-ageing benefits.
As discussed above, the melanocytes in the deeper layers of your skin produce pigment and distribute it to the skin cells at the surface of your skin.
While a pigment serum can help reduce pigment produced at the deeper layers of your skin, exfoliating your skin can help remove visibly pigmented cells from your surface complexion. It can also help clear congestion so your pigment serums can penetrate the skin better.
An exfoliating cleanser that contains AHAs (Alpha-Hydroxy Acids) like lactic acid, citric acid or glycolic acid will exfoliate your skin without the harshness of manual exfoliating scrubs.
You can also use an exfoliating serum with BHAs (Beta Hydroxy Acids) for a more thorough exfoliation.